October 2007: Sensitive Issues
I recently read an article in the National Council on Aging Senior Focus (July/August 2007) on the importance of discussing “sensitive topics” with your doctor. These are issues that are shared by many older adults, but they are not a “normal part of aging”. Often people feel awkward discussing these issues with anyone, but bringing them up can bring relief and change.
These are some of the topics that the article reports that NIH Senior Health.gov recommends discussing with your doctor:
· Alcohol: Anyone can develop a drinking problem. Alcohol can have a greater effect with age and in combination with many medications. Alcohol should not become the remedy for the pain of loss or loneliness.
· Falling or fear of falling: Risk of falling increases with age, but fear should not run your life. Review any physical contributing factors, consider a class to improve balance, and reduce fall hazards at home.
· Driving: Tell your doctor if you or people close to you are concerned about your driving. Your doctor can refer you for an evaluation.
· Grief, mourning, and depression: Loss is an inevitable part of later life. Some people navigate these well and others need assistance.
· Sexuality: Health, medication and surgery can change sexual function. Don’t assume that problems are a part of aging that you need to accept.
· Incontinence: Problems with bladder or bowel control can be treated with exercises, medication, surgery, or other habit changes.
· Memory problems: Tell your doctor about any problems you are having with remembering recent events, names or numbers. There are many new treatments available that can slow memory loss if caught early.
· Problems with family: Talk about the problems you are having, especially if you feel you are being mistreated by a family member or caregiver.
As a clinical social worker, I see that many of these issues are ones that can be addressed by a counselor. Doctors are often very busy, and if you are not assertive about presenting issues you want to discuss, or if you hesitate, your appointment is over. Plan the visit in advance. Take a list of concerns or jot down some phrases to help you get over the initial awkwardness of bringing up a sensitive issue. Doctors also can not be expected to be experts at everything, or you may get the impression that the doctor is uncomfortable discussing this topic with you. Do not give up! Ask the doctor for a referral to a counselor who can help you, or ask one of the Princeton Senior Resource Center social service staff to help you connect with someone who can help.
Many people are hesitant to seek help for sensitive issues. Counseling still carries a stigma for some. Others want a fast medication solution, rather than talking about personal issues. But it does work, and can break through the pain of depression, anxiety, loneliness and grief. You do not have to just “tough it out” with these personal concerns.
Susan W. Hoskins, LCSW
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